Even those of us in small churches know it takes a lot more than a pastor to get all the tasks of church work done and done well. He needs the help of good support people, both volunteers and paid staff workers. One of the first positions any church should fill after choosing a Pastor is the Church Secretary.
The Church Secretary is the first contact many people in your community will have with your church, and in many cases she may be the only contact they ever make. What impression of your church will outsiders have after talking with her? A friendly, helpful, cheerful person may make all the difference to someone seeking a new church, or even needing spiritual help.
The Secretary is also the primary support person for your Pastors and ministry personnel. Choosing the right person to fill this position and keeping her around should certainly be a priority for your church.
When hiring a new Church Secretary, the first question which usually arises is, “Do we hire a church member or someone outside the church?” While each church must make this decision for itself, I would offer the following observations, based on my own experience. I have been a Church Secretary for over 20 years, and have served in my own church as well as a church of which I am not a member.
Advantages of hiring a church member
If you choose a member, you hire someone you know and have seen in action before. Her skills set and gifts should be obvious, as should her ability to interact successfully with people. Members know what is going on in the church, and they have a vested interest in helping the church move forward. Members know other members, which is an advantage when calling volunteers and preparing directories and other personalized forms.
Someone known to the congregation might be more approachable for members needing assistance, and she may find it easier to adapt to the particular office “culture” of your church. She may be familiar with the Pastor and staff and could, perhaps, adjust to the team better than someone hired from outside the congregation. Choosing someone who has been a volunteer office person or who has worked with the former Secretary would have obvious benefits. Finally, someone from the church will be familiar with the doctrine and beliefs of the church, and has already demonstrated a willingness to promote and stand for that belief.
Disadvantages of hiring a church member
There may not be anyone within your congregation who is perfectly suited for the job. Hiring outside the church may result in your getting a more efficient office worker and perhaps someone with a wealth of experience working for a church. Someone from the congregation may also come to the position with pre-conceived notions about how things should and should not be done in the office, and may feel that she has the right, as a member, to press for these changes. Not so with someone coming from the outside and learning the rules for the first time.
Church members may feel they have a right to be considered over a more qualified applicant just because they are members. There may even be several members vying for the position, and hiring one might offend others.
The biggest disadvantage to hiring a member is the closeness she would have to other members. Worshiping alongside someone she knows is beating his wife or drinking heavily may be extremely difficult. Confidentiality, one of the most important aspect of the position, may also be an issue in these situations. It’s much easier for a stranger to have no contact with people who know the offender or know nothing of what programs or problems are being discussed by leaders of the church.
Also relating to confidentiality is the fact that a member will have much more contact with other members who are, in fact, her friends. The temptation to share even a little of what is happening “behind the scenes” may be tough to fight. It’s a difficult position for a new Secretary to handle, even without added pressure from fellow parishioners.
Finally, while a Church Secretary may work directly under the supervision of the Pastor, she also works indirectly for all the members of the church. If the person is a member, other members are more likely to call her at home at times with their issues (this has happened to me) both because she is a member and because her phone number is in the church directory.
The Best Solution
When faced with this dilemma, what should a search committee or personnel manager do? My advice is to hire the best qualified person for the position. If you have prepared a good job description and prayed about the hiring, you should have no trouble determining who that person is, whether it’s a member or an outsider.
In general, you need to be sure your Secretary professes and lives according to the Christian faith, is a member of a good church (even if it’s not yours) and can do the job with grace and skill. Of primary concern is her ability to maintain confidentiality. All this requires excellent references, so be sure to require them, and to check them carefully.
Businesses promote from within all the time, so remain open to that possibility, but be clear to members who apply that they won’t get preferential treatment in the hiring process. If they balk at this, you already know they aren’t the right person for the job.
Throughout this article I have used the pronoun “she” to refer to a Church Secretary. While most of us are female, there are many wonderful male Church Secretaries out there, too. Don’t overlook the men who apply just because they are male.
A good Church Secretary requires more than a basic knowledge of office work and the ability to effectively use office machinery. She must know more than how to design a flyer or create a church newsletter. While these are skill sets she will need, it is far more important that she knows how to effectively minister to people and that she mirrors the love of Jesus to all who enter her office.